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The Headache Blues

Each day more than 1 million Americans will rush to their local drugstores to swallow the much advertised "instant relief" for the affliction more common than the common cold - the common headache.  We will choose one of more than 200 over-the-counter or prescription medications to kill the pain.  Most likely we won't know or care why we're feeling as bad as we do.  "R.E.L.I.E.F." is what we want, and the sooner the better.  There are more than fifteen different types of headaches and most can be gotten rid of completely if we take the time to find which kind we have and fix the problem.  Taking the magic pill is akin to turning off the fire alarm while the fire rages on.  It can allow a "simple" problem to be masked and allow enough time to pass such that a more complex problem can be created, not only those problems caused by the side effects of the medications.  To treat a headache effectively, we have to identify the cause and deal with it directly.

In 1988 the International Headache Society included "cervicogenic (having its origin from the neck) headache" in its classification system for the first time.  Included in this classification were the following subgroups: muscle contraction headache, myofascial head and neck pain, cervical spondylosis (arthritis), occipital neuralgia, cervical headache, post-traumatic  and vertebrogenic migraine.

In 1991 a review of all studies of manipulation for the treatment of headaches was done.  The results reported after seven days consisting of two to three treatments included complete relief of headaches in 75% of the subjects, an increase of range of motion of approximately 10 degrees, and greatly reduced reports of dizziness.  This is not to say that all the headaches were of cervicogenic origin, but that they did respond to manipulative care.  What are some of the other causes of a headache?

A quick list of the most common causes of headache after cervicogenic includes the following: 1) stress and tension, 2) food related, 3) toxin related, 4) organ related, 5) dental or TMJ related, 6) sinus distress,  7) eyestrain, 8) high blood pressure, and 9) tumors.  The last three generally require medical attention.  The others I will give a brief explanation and some simple remedies that you can try on your own.  Remember however, that if you don't respond see your chiropractor or physician for better analysis of your problem.

How can headaches be related to food, you might ask.  Well there are several ways.  Many headaches, including migraines, are due to food allergies; i.e., you don't properly digest your foods and large food molecules enter the bloodstream to which the brain has a hypersensitive reaction.  Some of the foods to avoid if you think your headaches might be food-related include caffeine, grain alcohols, aged cheeses, chocolate, processed meats, milk products, wheat products, soy products and certain nuts.

Another way foods can cause headaches also relates to maldigestion problems.  If your digestive organs are not making enough of their digestive "juices," e.g., hydrochloric acid, proteolytic enzymes, bile salts, pancreatic enzymes, then you have a putrefactive process occurring in your intestines instead of the normal digestive process.  This can cause the formation of certain toxic by-products can cause nasty headaches.   If your liver is also having problems with its detoxifying pathways headaches may be expected.  Proteins are frequently the culprit.  Supplementing with betaine hydrochloride and a bowel or liver cleanser may help reduce headache frequency and severity.

If caffeine, candy and cookies, fast foods and infrequent meals are the major staples of your diet, headaches probably are too.  It is estimated that close to fifty percent of us are affected to one degree or another by low blood sugar.  The above "diet" includes all the prerequisites for making it difficult for your body to regulate your blood sugar.   Correcting "sugar headaches" is not easy. Discipline is necessary to eliminate the sources of caffeine and simple carbohydrates.  If you wake up regularly with headaches, this too can be a "sugar related headache."  A simple test is to have a glass of orange or apple juice bedside, and when you wake up drink it and see if you don't get your "usual" morning headache.  If you don't, then you know you need to change your eating habits.

Many headaches have a true structural cranial origin.  What I mean by this is that the stresses within the cranium itself setup source for headaches.  Most of us think of our heads as a single bone.  But it is made of almost two dozen interlocking and moving parts.  These parts, individual bones, are designed to have a certain amount of play, just like the structural parts of bridge, to allow for expansion, contraction and movement.  Parents of children with orthodontic braces are made aware of this on a regular basis when after going to the dentist to have the braces adjusted, the child complains of a headache the next day.  Various techniques to relax muscles of the jaw and to mobilize cranial bones will often get rid of headaches associated with orthodontic braces, sinus discomfort, and jaw problems.

If you or someone you know is tired of those "usual" headaches, why not get to the cause of them once and for all?  Call your chiropractor and ask what can be done to rid you of your analgesic habit.